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Stress, Transformation, and the Human-Horse Bond



Equine Assisted Activities Therapies (EAAT) have long been recognized for their profound impact on individuals with various physical and psychological disorders. However, a critical aspect often overlooked is the effect of these therapies on the horses involved. Groundbreaking research has now shed light on this facet, offering valuable insights into the stress levels and well-being of horses engaged in EAAT, especially in sessions with PTSD-diagnosed veterans.


Understanding the Horse-Human Connection in EAAT

EAAT, a therapeutic approach that involves interactions between horses and humans, has been transformative for people with disabilities and mental health challenges. However, this therapy's impact on the horses, essential participants in the process, remained largely unexplored until recently.


Stress Levels and Well-being of Horses

Malinowski et al. (2018) aimed to deepen our understanding of EAAT's impact on horses, measured stress and well-being through physiological markers like plasma cortisol, oxytocin, and heart rate variability. Surprisingly, the research revealed that horses displayed normal physiological concentrations of cortisol throughout the EAAT sessions. This indicates that the therapy sessions, contrary to some assumptions, did not elevate stress levels in these animals.

Furthermore, a reduction in heart rate during EAAT sessions was observed, suggesting a decrease in sympatho-adrenal activity. This finding is crucial as it implies that horses experienced a state of relaxation rather than stress during their interactions with humans, particularly with veterans diagnosed with PTSD.


The Importance of Oxytocin

Oxytocin, often referred to as the 'love hormone', is associated with stress reduction and bonding in both humans and animals. Interestingly, this study found no significant changes in plasma oxytocin levels in horses post-EAAT sessions. This outcome might be attributed to the timing of blood sampling and the hormone's short half-life, suggesting a need for further research in this area.


EAAT's Impact on Veterans with PTSD

On the human side of the equation, the study reported significant reductions in symptoms of PTSD among veterans participating in EAAT. This aligns with the growing body of evidence supporting animal-assisted interventions in enhancing psychological treatment plans. The veterans experienced notable decreases in anxiety, depression, and other psychological distress symptoms, emphasizing EAAT's effectiveness as a complementary therapeutic approach.


Conclusion: A Harmonious Therapeutic Alliance

The study's results are groundbreaking, revealing that EAAT is not only beneficial for humans but also neutral or possibly even relaxing for the horses involved. This research underscores the importance of considering the welfare of animal participants in therapeutic settings. It also opens up new avenues for further exploration into the intricate dynamics of horse-human interactions in therapy.


In conclusion, EAAT emerges not just as a tool for human healing but as a symbiotic process where both horses and humans can engage in a mutually beneficial and stress-free environment. This research paves the way for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the roles animals play in therapeutic settings, highlighting the need for their well-being and comfort to be paramount in these interactions.

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At Strides To Solutions, we are committed to ensuring the well-being of both our human clients and equine partners. Our EAAT programs are designed with this balance in mind, offering a safe, effective, and mutually beneficial therapeutic experience. Join us in embracing the healing power of horses and the profound connections they foster.


References:

Malinowski, K., Yee, C., Tevlin, J. M., Birks, E. K., Durando, M. M., Pournajafi-Nazarloo, H., & McKeever, K. H. (2018). The effects of equine assisted therapy on plasma cortisol and oxytocin concentrations and heart rate variability in horses and measures of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. Journal of equine veterinary science, 64, 17-26.

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